2009 Western Conference Finals Game 2: Denver Nuggets 106 – Los Angeles Lakers 103

Box Score | Highlights

I wrote after game one there should be no question the Denver Nuggets are a capable opponent for the Los Angeles Lakers.  If there were still any doubters the Nuggets’ 106-103 game two victory has permanently closed debate although at this point the only people who needed convincing of the Nuggets’ prowess were the most hardcore Lakers fans.

It cannot be overstated how much the Nuggets are playing in the playoffs.  They never played this well for this long during the regular season.  With there being so much pressure, both internally and externally, to get out of the first round I believe this team was really chomping at the bit for the playoffs to start from the time they acquired Chauncey.  George Karl said on multiple occasions that he thought Denver would explode once they made it past the first round.  Well, he was absolutely right.  The early success against the New Orleans Hornets has fired this team to an entirely different level of confidence.  I lost track of how many times I heard analysts talk about how the Nuggets were a team comprised of knuckleheads.  If you let knuckleheads taste success they become very dangerous just like in Bad News Bears. 

Both teams were a little sluggish to start the game.  After a relatively uninspiring first six minutes the Lakers slowly began to take control thanks to some seriously lazy play by Denver.  Time after time Denver was beaten back in transition or standing and watching as a Laker player retrieved a missed shot and placed it snuggly in the basket.  Things looked bleak as we were witnessing all the worst aspects of game one with an extra lack of interest thrown in for good measure. 

Things slowly began to turn around in the middle of the second quarter.  The catalyst was Carmelo Anthony.  Melo started the game 1-6, but somehow willed himself into the zone (at least inside the three point arc).  With the Nuggets down 14 Melo came out of a timeout and proceeded to pour in the Nuggets next 14 points in order to ensure they did not fall further behind.  I think it was an incredibly significant moment in Carmelo’s career and you can read more about it here (#3). 

While Melo kept Denver close with his scoring it may have been his recommendation that George Karl reinsert Linas Kleiza into the game with just under four minutes left in the second quarter that actually turned the tide.  Karl complied and for the first time I can remember Denver went big. 

The Nuggets had a lineup of Nene, Kenyon, Kleiza and Carmelo all on the floor with Chauncey.  The Lakers did not get another offensive rebound for the rest of the quarter and Denver closed the half out on a 14-2 run.

There are a lot of Nuggets fans out there who have a strong dislike for Kleiza. He definitely regressed this season and he is typically a complete liability if his three point shot is not falling, which it has not been for months.  I myself have been considering him nothing more than an asset to be traded in the offseason.  Kleiza likes playing against the Lakers and he had a nice series against them last season.  With J.R. clearly limited the Nuggets need someone off the bench to score.  Kleiza might end up becoming a difference maker in this series.  Kevin Arnovitz of ClipperBlog and TrueHoop fame has a nice segment on Kleiza in the Daily Dime (#8). 

Love him or hate him you have to admit without Kleiza the Nuggets are down 0-2 in this series.  What I loved about Kleiza’s play, I have definitely not written that in a very long while, was he knew Denver needed to keep the Lakers off the offensive glass and he was in the lane right at the rim on every shot attempt.  His effort bore fruit as he pulled down eight big first half rebounds.  His example was able to convince his teammates how important it is to swarm the paint.  The Nuggets actually collected more offensive rebounds than the Lakers did, 14 to 13, and the total rebound battle was a virtual tie as well with L.A. claiming one more rebound than Denver, 43-32.

The Nuggets also remedied their free throw shooting although things were ugly early on again.  Denver actually made 17 straight free throws and 18 of their final 19.  The one miss sent hearts racing as it gave the Lakers the chance to tie the game up with a final desperation heave by Derek Fisher.  Nene did a great job of fighting through an arm tackle by Paul Gasol and challenging the shot.  He forced Fisher’s typically high arcing shot to a slightly higher trajectory than intended and the shot fell a foot or two shy of the mark. 

It was a great win and I just cannot get enough of Carmelo right now.  There is still room for improvement. He attempted a ridiculous number of threes, six, that left me begging for him to stop chucking them up.  Those six three point attempts unduly drove his shooting percentage down.  Carmelo ended up converting 12 of 23 two point attempts, which is very impressive.  Melo also had a couple of very bad turnovers coming down the stretch.  One was a pass directly into the teeth of the defense with no obvious recipient in the vicinity.  The other he over dribbled moving at a snail’s pace on the perimeter coming off a screen and allowed Ariza to swoop in from behind and take the ball. 

Even so the will and determination Carmelo is displaying is a new side we have not seen in the past.  We all know Melo is competitive, you have to be in order to play at the highest level.  What he has added is that will to succeed and to win and it is reflected in everything he does.  Last season in the first round series against the Lakers if Melo found himself on Kobe, you could see him looking to switch off at the earliest possible moment.  He has done a complete 180 as he now welcomes the challenge and is doing a pretty darn good job. 

There was some consternation at the end of the game as there was a controversial jump ball resulting in a Laker turnover. 

I watched the jump ball at the end of the game in super slow motion multiple times and the lane violation that the officials supposedly missed on J.R. was not nearly as clear cut of a call as the announcers and pundits would have you believe.  J.R.’s first step was actually outside the circle and by the time his second step touched the ground inside the circle Gasol had already swiped at the ball, although he did miss it.  yes, J.R. was in the circle before the ball was touched, but if you are going to stick to the letter of the law, the player who first set foot inside the circle was Lamar Odom who had his foot over the line before J.R. touched down inside the area in question. 

The Lakers wanted Carmelo to be called for a foul after Ariza had gained possession.  What happened, once again thanks to super slow mo technology, was Ariza’s left foot landed on Odom’s left foot and when Odom took a step it caused Ariza to lose his balance.  Melo did not push Ariza.  It was a very good no call.

There is much more to discuss, but I must get at least some sleep tonight.  It is a shame I did not get to talk about Chauncey at all yet, but look for additional bullets sometime on Friday.

With tonight’s win game three just became much more exciting.

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Nuggets/Mavericks Notes

Before we get to a few more thoughts on game three of the Denver Nuggets/Dallas Mavericks series there are a couple of announcements to make. 

First, make sure you swing by here at 1:00 Mountain time to take part in a chat with Rob Mahoney from The Two Man Game.  We will be taking your questions and I am sure listening to a lot of complaining heading into game four.

Secondly, the Nugg Doctor is hosting a game four viewing party at the ESPN Zone in downtown Denver.  I cannot make it due to the fact my softball teams needs my sterling skills at shortstop tonight (only two errors so far in two games improving on my previous best of 12 errors in two games), but if you like watching games with other rowdy Nuggets fans I encourage you to join the party.  Nick the Nugg Doctor is promising trivia and prizes.

More end of game comments

There has been a lot of fallout over the whistle not heard around the world and it deserves more discussion here.

First of all, all the excuses being made for Antoine Wright are ridiculous.  It has been said that he could not have wrapped Carmelo up because of the danger of being called for an intentional foul or a flagrant foul?  That is just preposterous.  The entire episode took place under the guise of referees to not want to unduly impact the end of games.  No NBA referee is going to call either an intentional or a flagrant foul in that spot.  Rajon Rondo punched Brad Miller in the face and did not get a flagrant foul. 

There are two accounts of Nuggets fans watching the game in a bar with the sound down and thus not knowing the Mavs had a foul to give.  Jakester recounted it here in a comment here on RMC and Andy from Denver Stiffs was also in that position.  Neither observer thought there was a foul that should have been called in that point in the game. 

The actions of Mark Cuban following the game were repulsive.  I can appreciate his passion for his team, but his conduct was not appropriate for a fan, let alone an owner of an NBA franchise.  At one point he pushed a camera man, although not hard, was seen shouting obscenities on the court and he even yelled at Kenyon Martin’s mom calling Kenyon a thug. 

I respect players and teams who do not look to blame the officials whenever they lose.  Mentally tough teams do not look to blame the referees after any loss.  They accept responsibility.  There is a belief that teams taken on the personality of their coaches.  Well, as active as Cuban is I think Dallas has taken on some of the personality of their owner.  The Mavs are not a mentally tough team and I think a big reason is because of the emphasis Cuban has placed on poor officiating.  I understand much of what Cuban has done is with the admirable goal of improving officiating in the NBA.  However, he should keep that data away from the players, coaches and fans.  By making a stink over every call he does not agree with he remove the burden of losses from his players to the officials.

Instead of learning from all the mistakes Dallas made in the final couple of minutes, or wondering why they were not up double digits at halftime when the Nuggets were shooting under 30%, they are completely focused on the officials. 

Mavericks fans have been proclaiming that Nuggets fans would be angry too if Denver had tried to foul and failed only to see the game winning shot go through the hoop.  I agree, it would be a wide topic of conversation, but on this site I promise we would have focused on the very same issue of what the player could have done better in order to get the foul called.

I will say one thing in Wright’s defense.  The game had been called very tight all afternoon and what he did would have been called a foul at any other point during the game. 

I will also add that Dirk Nowitzki seemed to have the right attitude about the end of the game.  He left the floor quietly and I believe he was contemplating what he could have done better to win the game.  Jason Kidd was also quick to accept blame (Update:  Dallas Morning News blog post with Kidds’ comments) as he was quoted as saying the play at the end of the game was not what cost Dallas the win.  

It was interesting to see that Josh Howard who shot 5-15 and was in foul trouble was the most animated in his displeasure.  Maybe Josh should have shared Dirk’s attitude.  He was called for a technical in the third quarter that gave Denver an extra point, he only shot 33% and his defense was not overly impressive.  He can blame the officials all he wants and I realize he is playing in pain, but he should be looking at himself. 

It is unfortunate that the game had to end with that kind of controversy, but do not let it get you down Nuggets fans.  Dallas can say whatever they want and the NBA can put out statements until the end of time, the fact is Melo made the shot and Denver earned that win.  Enjoy it.

Suspensions?

The NBA is reportedly reviewing the events on the court following game three and I will let you know as soon as I know if there are any suspensions as a result of what went down.

Kleiza’s thumb

According to a report on this site (thanks to Nate at Pickaxe and Roll for the link), which has since been removed, Linas Kleiza’s thumb is broken.  

There is no news in the Denver Post that I have found confirming that, but as I wrote in my game three recap.  Kleiza was clearly not interested in shooting, which I have never seen before, and if he is not scoring, he does not belong on the court.  

2009 NBA Playoffs Round 2 Game 3: Denver Nuggets 106 – Dallas Mavericks 105

Box Score | Highlights

If you are looking for a reason why the Denver Nuggets struggled to duplicate their relatively easy wins from the first two games of the series against the Dallas Mavericks I will give you three.  First Dallas played with more fire and intensity because they were at home.  They are a very good home team. 

Secondly Dallas finally started running and scoring in transition.  In game three the Mavericks were credited with 21 fast break points while the Nuggets only compiled nine.  Dallas had only scored 13 fast break points in the first two games while Denver rung up 54.  Transition defense has been a weakness for the Nuggets all season and neither New Orleans nor Dallas have tried to take advantage of that aspect of the game.

Thirdly, the game was officiated in a way that was beneficial to the Mavericks.  That is not a complaint.  I thought the referees were consistent from start to finish, or at least from start through the first 11:57 of the fourth quarter.  Dallas needs the referees to penalize Denver from playing physical defense and they did.  In my opinion they called the game too tightly.  The third quarter seemed like it lasted an hour.  Dallas shot 21 free throws in the third quarter alone (all in the final 9:20) and the Nuggets shot 12.  Thirty-three free throws in a single quarter is just brutal to watch.

However, it is difficult to be upset with the referees (and not because of the way the game ended).  After watching the third quarter again the way the game was being officiated, it is hard to argue with the calls.  Many of them were on plays where the Nuggets were reaching.  Chauncey picked up two fouls trying to make a steal.  At one point Melo had switched onto Dirk, he fought for position in the post and forced Nowitzki out to the three point line to receive the pass.  Then he banged with Dirk continuing to fight for every inch he could.  Then after working that hard, he bails Dirk out by slapping his arms when he pivoted to shoot.  The Nuggets committed fouls due to either lazy defense or getting caught out of position.

Foul trouble became an issue in the third quarter as Chauncey, Chris Andersen and Nene all were called for their fourth foul by the midpoint of the third quarter.  Andersen committed two bad frustration fouls which gave him five fouls with over three minutes left in the third.  He would foul out after playing less than 11 minutes. 

As a result the Nuggets were forced to play with a smaller lineup and with the Mavericks forcing their way into the paint more frequently it forced the Nuggets to foul even more to prevent easy shots at the rim.

As the game progressed it was apparent to me that Dallas was playing with just a tad bit more intensity and intelligence at both ends of the floor.  As I have written before it is impossible to manufacture desperation and Dallas was playing with desperation.  Add in the poor shooting by the Nuggets in the first half, the lackadaisical defense resulting in the free throw parade in the third quarter, the foul trouble born out of sloppy defense and the Nuggets not being able to put together that decisive run we have become accustom to and it was a very frustrating game to watch.  The Nuggets did not play their best and everything I was watching convinced me the Nuggets would not pull this game out.  They lost a close game three in New Orleans and they were about to lose a close game three in Dallas. 

With 34 seconds left Anthony Carter made the horrible decision, as he frequently does, to run at Dirk from behind Dirk in an attempt to steal the ball.  Carter left Jason Terry all alone in the corner and in a play you could see happening before everything actually happened Dirk passed over to Terry who hit the open three to put Dallas up 105-101.  Game over, or at least so I thought.

From that point on the Mavericks made four big mistakes.  First of all needing to run some clock they allowed Carmelo to score on a dunk in only 2.6 seconds.  I realize you do not want to foul, but at least make Melo change directions.  If they manage to force just two more seconds off the clock, I think Denver has to foul on ensuing possession instead of playing to get one more stop with time on the clock.  

The second mistake was made by Dirk.  Not only did Dirk take some terrible shots down the stretch, but he probably lost the game for Dallas by shooting far too early on their second to last possession.  There was a differential of roughly four seconds between the shot clock and game clock.  Dirk shot with six seconds left on the shot clock.  By the time Denver corralled the rebound and called timeout there were 6.5 seconds left.  If Dirk shoots that shot with just one or two seconds on the shot clock, Denver is looking at only a second or two to tie or win the game instead of 6.5. 

The final two mistakes were the inability to foul convincingly, which I have already written about, and the unimaginative inbounds play the Mavericks ran at the end of the game.  I thought the final inbounds play by the Mavericks was pretty weak.  The Mavs only needed two points to win and running a play for Dirk or Terry to catch running away from the basket, forcing them to turn and shoot from long range was silly.  I think Dallas could have had Josh Howard cutting to the rim.  They should have known Denver would be focusing on Dirk and Terry which would have allowed Howard, who set a screen for Dirk, but when Howard curled around the backside he ran towards the opposite sideline instead of at the rim plus Brandon Bass was just sitting on the offside block anyway.

If Dallas makes better decisions or better plays in any of those four situations, apart from the final play with only a second left, that is a tough situation to bounce back from, perhaps the game ends up differently.

If you are looking for one thing that turned the game in the Nuggets’ favor look no further than a defensive adjustment George Karl made midway through the fourth quarter.  With Dirk scoring almost at will off of all the defensive switches the Nuggets were employing Karl changed things up during a timeout with 6:22 remaining in the fourth.  From that point on Denver started defending screens straight up with the big man hedging to slow down the ball handler and then recovering back to his man.  From that point on I believe Denver only switched one more screen the rest of the game.  However, Dallas probably did not realize the Nuggets had changed tactics for a couple of minutes because they posted Jason Kidd up on Chauncey for four or five straight possessions. 

Dallas ran their last set with Kidd posting up Billups at the 3:17 mark when Chauncey finally kept Kidd out of the lane and forced a bad turnaround jumper.  From that point on Dallas ran their regular down screens and pick and pop sets against the Nuggets more stout non-switching pick defense.  The result was out of Dallas’ final six shots not one of them came from in the lane.  Four of those six shots were badly forced jumpers by Dirk over Kenyon (of course one of them was the final shot of the game where Dirk had no choice, but to shoot a contested jumper).

When the Nuggets switch and Dirk is covered by a guard or Melo, he will back the smaller defender down and get an easy two.  If he has a big man on him, he almost always settles for the jumper.  By making sure Kenyon stayed on Dirk it ensured Nowitzki will take much more difficult shots.

Denver did hold the Mavericks to 40.0% shooting so from that standpoint it is difficult to say Denver did a poor defensive job, but I will.  The Nuggets hardnosed defense we saw against the Hornets has been softened because of all the switching.  Denver was forced to foul because the Mavs had the ball in the lane all night long.  The Nuggets defensive efficiency in games two and three against Dallas has been their two worst of the postseason. 

The Nuggets now have a chance at sweeping the Mavericks tonight in Dallas.  How amazing has this run been?

Additional Round 2 Game 3 Nuggets

 

  • I love how Chauncey defended the final play by Dallas.  Kidd was throwing the ball in and Dallas attempted to run Terry and Dirk towards the ball to receive a pass, turn and shoot.  Chauncey did not bother covering Kidd and when Terry flashed to the ball, Chauncey ran at him forcing him to run back out towards half court.  Kenyon forced Dirk to run almost all the way to Kidd to get open and at the three second mark of the five second count both Dirk, Terry, Chauncey, Kenyon and Carter were all bunched up in front of Kidd and Jason had nowhere to pass.  He made the inbounds pass to Dirk with just a couple of tenths of a second left on the five second count. 
  • One thing I have not heard mentioned about the play where Melo hit the game winning three pointer, although I have not read any game stories as of yet so someone may have brought it up, is even if the officials make the foul call the Nuggets still have the ball with over three seconds left to score.  Wright reached in at the 3.6 second mark so Denver still would have had plenty of time to set Melo or Chauncey up with a chance to win the game.
  • I do think Denver had to go for the win at the end of regulation.  With the foul trouble they were in, an extra five minutes might have been a dicey proposition.
  • Dallas deserves credit for the way they played. Their defense was spirited and offensively they were much more aggressive at going to the rim and attacking in transition. It will be interesting if they can recreate that effort after all the frustration from a very difficult loss.
  • With Denver down three and under a minute left Kenyon Martin forced a miss by Dirk on a wild turnaround jumper and the Nuggets quickly brought the ball into the front court.  Chauncey had been red hot in the second half and Melo had been getting to the line at will.  Surely needing a bucket to have any chance to win they would go to one of those two.  Instead Chauncey gave the ball to a player who at that point was 1-9 on the day.  Chauncey realized Brandon Bass cold not cover Nene.  Nene caught the ball on the right block, surveyed the court and noticed Bass was playing him high to keep him from turning getting into the middle of the lane.  Nene spun baseline around Bass and after avoiding a meager swipe at the ball by Dirk laid it in to bring the Nuggets to within one.  I do not know if Chauncey knew Nene was 1-9 and had been missing easy shots all day long, but the fact he gave the big man the rock in that situation shows the kind of trust these guys have in each other.
  • I have to take George Karl to task over one decision.  We all know Linas Kleiza is only worth having on the court if he is scoring.  Well, due to foul trouble Kleiza was on the floor for 13:54 despite the fact he could not shoot after slamming his thumb in a car door.  Why keep Kleiza on the court knowing he cannot provide anything on offense and suffer through his poor defense.  Renaldo Balkman absolutely must play in that situation. 
  • Rick Carlisle has received a lot of credit for having the guts to keep Josh Howard in the game with four fouls in the third quarter.  Apart from a couple of nice drives Howard did not really do anything.  He switched onto Dahntay Jones for much of that time so he was not helping on defense, he was just on the court to be on the court.  Plus he was called for a technical after in his frustration he swatted the ball out of play after it passed through the net.  Do you think Dallas would have liked to have that point back?
  • J.R. Smith had a poor shooting game, but he was excellent on defense and he ended up leading the Nuggets in plus/minus with a plus eight.  J.R. played very good defense and there were two occasions in the first half when he was switched onto Dirk where he prevented Nowitzki from getting to the rim and forced misses. 
  • Chris Andersen  was also largely an observer although he has little room to complain.  His fourth and fifth fouls were just very poor decisions.  For the Nuggets to win, on the road in the playoffs no less, with Birdman on the bench for almost 38 minutes and J.R. not scoring is a great sign.
  • Carter’s steal percentage has to be about the lowest in the league.  Near the end of the game when he tried to get a steal from Dirk and left Jason Terry alone in the corner I think every Nuggets fan saw the three pointer going in the hoop as soon as Carter ran at Dirk.  He may be a good on the ball defender and at chasing his man through screens, but he leaves his teammates out to dry by going for steals as much as Allen Iverson did. 

Mindboggling Game Stats

Pace Factor:  90.7 – Exactly the same as game two.

Defensive Efficiency:  115.8 – Exactly the same as game two as the pace factor was the same and Dallas scored 105 points in both games. 

Offensive Efficiency:  116.9 – Once again the offense was solid even with J.R. Smith struggling and Melo shooting a poor percentage.

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Nuggets/Hornets Game 5 Additional Thoughts

At this point I do not have a lot to add about last night’s game.  Mentally I have switched over to the next series, which is nice to be able to say. 

 

  • Byron Scott finally implemented some new wrinkles in game five and it was the first time I have ever seen a team stop going to their bread and butter play because the Nuggets’ defense had shut it down.  In the first quarter the Hornets ran almost no pick and roll plays for Chris Paul.  They ran a lot of sets designed to get Peja and David West shots.  It worked for a brief time as both Peja and West made their shots early.  After the first quarter New Orleans went back to their old ways.  I do not know if they wanted to try to get the supporting cast involved early or if the idea was to try to save Paul for what was hopefully going to be a close second half.  Strangely enough it worked as the first quarter of game five proved to be the only quarter that New Orleans outscored Denver at the Pepsi Center.
  • It cannot be overstated how much Melo has grown over the previous four games.  There has been some hay made over his improved defense during the regular season where he basically moved his mindset from we will probably get the ball back at some point in the next 24 seconds to I am supposed to guard that guy there and I am going to make sure I know when he is moving.  In the playoffs we saw Melo’s defensive awareness and effort increase to a whole new level.  We still get the occasional play like the one in game five where he ran at Peja in the corner and ended up in the Hornets’ bench from where he chose to watch the rest of the possession that resulted in Peja cutting to the basket and getting a pass for a layup plus a foul on Dahntay Jones.  Those lapses are becoming few and far between and I believe we can expect more of the same from Melo on defense.
  • Beyond Melo’s defensive improvement we saw a transformation from him on offense as well.  In game one we were subjected to old playoff Melo where he was getting doubled and for the most part took bad shots.  For some reason in game two he suddenly decided that when he was doubled he could get his teammates open shots by passing the ball.  Novel idea, wish I had thought of it.  Going further in Games three and four he was much more aggressive in attacking the defense off the dribble.  In game five, especially in the second half, Melo was a completely different player than we had seen in the past.  Fifteen of Carmelo’s 25 shots came from in close and he made ten of them.  Of the five he missed, three were blocked.  Seeing him slice and dice the Hornets defense was a beautiful sight.
  • I thought Chauncey played a great game even though his scoring was nowhere near the level he produced in the first two games of the series.  I much prefer a Billups who shoots less and assists more and he ended the night with two more assists, 11, than shot attempts, 9.  Denver is now 7-0 when that happens. 
  • Despite the fact that he shot 7-14 from the three point line against the Hornets Linas Kleiza did not get off the bench in game five.  It goes to show how potent the Nuggets’ offense is that they can leave him on the bench and still produce a highly effective and efficient performance.
  • Looking at the defensive numbers the Nuggets posted they held the Hornets to 84.2 points per game for the series on 39.6% shooting.  New Orleans’ effective field goal percentage (taking into account three point shooting) was a lowly 43.9% and their true shooting percentage (accounting for free throw shooting) was a miniscule 51.8%.  Denver’s defensive efficiency was a sterling 95.1.
  • The Nuggets are now riding a 13 game home winning streak and the crowd seemed to be great from watching on television.  Things should only get better in that department as Denver goes deeper and deeper into the playoffs.

There, now that that’s done we can start focusing on Dallas.

2009 NBA Playoffs Round 1 Game 3: Denver Nuggets 93 – New Orleans Hornets 95

Box Score | Highlights

If you have not done so yet, look at the box score.  Look at how close those stats are.  Go right down the line and you will notice only two numbers where there is a difference of more than one or two digits.  The first is field goal attempts.  The Nuggets took five more shots, but made the same number as the Hornets, 30.  The other number is free throws made.  Denver made four fewer free throws even though both teams shot 35.

The Nuggets did shoot 35 free throws , which would seem to signify they were being aggressive on offense, but if you look at the shot chart you can see how perimeter oriented their offense was (keep in mind, missed shots resulting in free throws do not show up as they are not counted as an attempt and the dot in front of the rim represents more than one shot). 

Now look at another couple numbers.  Check out the Game Info page and look at the fast break points and points in the paint.  The Hornets led in both categories with a 22-6 advantage in fast break points and New Orleans outscored the Nuggets in points in the paint 44-30.

(Warning, the rest of this section may seem very self congratulatory, but trust me, I am just reporting what happened.  Do not let the fact that I was right about this stuff make it sound like I am trying to tell you how great I am.)

When I was a guest on the podcast with Alejandro de los Rios and he asked me what Hornets fans could look at to help themselves feel better after their losses I mentioned the Nuggets were not getting many points in the paint and they had been playing almost exclusively on the perimeter.  From Chauncey to J.R. to Melo a great deal of their offense was coming off of jumpers.  When those jumpers stopped falling we all knew the Nuggets could be in trouble.

New Orleans also made some important adjustments that I may have mentioned.  I thought the Nuggets would struggle to defend the pick and roll if the Hornets ran it with Nene’s man setting the screen every time.  Tonight, when Nene was on the floor the Hornets were doing exactly that.  That affected the Nuggets’ defense in three big ways.  First of all, Nene was almost exclusively guarding Tyson Chandler or Sean Marks and those two are the best New Orleans has at rolling to the basket after setting the screen requiring the Nuggets to suck into the paint. 

Secondly, it reduced their dependence on David West.  As I mentioned after game two the Hornets were force feeding West instead of working to get the ball to their hot shooters.  By setting fewer screens with West it allowed him to either spot up or attack the glass (he pulled down three offensive boards in game three after pulling down only one in each of the first two games) and also  and allowed Paul to spread the ball around more and find players like Posey in the first half and Butler in the second who were hitting their shots.  Thirdly running the pick and roll at Nene forced Nene to try to contain Paul and he has proven to be the worst Nuggets big man at keeping Paul out of the paint.  Also, four of Nene’s six fouls were a result of defending the pick and roll.  Two were called when he tried to dislodge the screener and two were instances where Paul drove into his body.

Another adjustment I thought the Hornets needed to make was to allow Paul to attack the Nuggets’ porous transition defense.  Paul was very aggressive in game three and there were many occasions where he was able to get in the paint easily in transition. 

The other change Paul needed to make was to be himself.  That means splitting double teams and to not give up his dribble so easily.  Saturday afternoon we saw the MVP caliber Paul that I was so afraid of heading into the series.  If he can squeeze off two or three more 32 and 12 performances another one of my comments will turn out to come true as well and that is these two teams will play all seven games of this series.

Additional Round 1 Game 3 Nuggets

 

  • Both teams have to feel confident heading into game four.  The Nuggets dominated early and late.  If they can play with more consistency they can win.  For the Hornets they expected to get back in this series by winning games three and four at home.  Game three gave them all the proof they needed to buy into that.
  • The flow of the game was very interesting.  The way the Nuggets came out of the gate it looked like they were bound and determined to sweep the series and send the NBA a message.  Faced with a big early deficit in a must win game the Hornets finally cranked up their intensity level to surpass that of the Nuggets.  After blowing their early 16 point lead the Nuggets hung right with the Hornets even though I felt like they were being outplayed for the second and third quarters.  When New Orleans did finally take control of the game they relaxed and Carmelo actually had two chances in the final few seconds to put the Nuggets up by one point. 
  • On Melo’s final half court heave right before he shot he dribbled slightly to his left and was gliding ever so slightly in that direction.  He missed off the left front part of the rim.  Had he kept heading in line with the rim who knows what might have happened?
  • The Nuggets shot 43 of their 74 shots off the dribble.  Out of those 43 shots they only made 12.  In case you can not do that math in your head that is 28% shooting.  Conversely off the catch Denver shot 15-26 which is 57.7%.  Draw whatever conclusions from that data you would like.
  • As runningdonut pointed out in the game thread Anthony Carter does not have a role in this series.  Dahntay Jones and Chauncey are doing fine on Paul.  Over the previous two games I have thought Carter’s defense has been very poor.  We have seen players out of control on offense, but Carter has been out of control on defense.  He is constantly getting out of position going for steals and when he runs at a shooter instead of closing out and remaining in the play he goes flying past and takes himself out of the play.  Chauncey should be playing 38-40 minutes and J.R. can fill in the rest at point guard.  At this point Carter is not adding anything to the team and in fact is bringing them down.  Looking at the box score Dahntay Jones was a +12 in under 17 minutes while Carter was a -10 in over 14.  That is a big deal in a two point game.  I am not saying AC should be kicked to the curb.  Should the Nuggets play the Mavs in the next series that will change as I think Jason Terry is a very good matchup for AC.  Maybe just tie him to the mini bar in his hotel room for game four.
  • J.R. did not put up great numbers and he forced a few jumpers, but I thought he did his best to probe in the lane and look to either score or dump off to an open teammate.  The Hornets are doing a very good job of collapsing in the lane on penetration.
  • On the second to final offensive play Melo missed a little 10 foot turnaround jumper after reacquiring a pass he tried throwing to Kenyon that was tipped.  If he throws a bounce pass to Kenyon instead of trying to feed it directly to him, Kenyon would have had a dunk to put the Nuggets up one with under ten seconds left.  It baffles how so few NBA players throw bounce passes and instead settle for passing the ball at the same level the defenders’ hands are.
  • Byron Scott finally left Chris Paul in for 46 minutes.  I think the Nuggets were expecting to see Paul on the floor for 44-46 minutes a game and they were pleasantly surprised that he only played an average of 36 minutes in the first two games although that was reduced by the fact Byron Scott pulled his starters with nine minutes left in the first game.
  • I thought the Hornets applied great ball pressure in the second half.  If they can keep it up they will continue to hold the Nuggets’ shooting percentage in the low 40’s.  Of course, it is nearly impossible to play with that kind of focus and intensity for an entire game.
  • Another reason for the Hornets to feel good about their win is they did it with Tyson Chandler and Peja Stojakovic adding next to nothing to the effort.
  • I am not sure if anyone addressed this or not as I do not read any game stories until I complete my post, but I found it interesting that Karl went small to close out the game.  So far during the series when the Hornets have had Posey at power forward Karl has stuck Chris Andersen on him, in game four it was Kleiza on the floor.  I have to think it was because Posey hit a few threes in the first half and Kleiza made a couple as well. 
  • I am not sure what is wrong with him, but I am officially concerned about Nene.  He is like a ghost out there.  It has to be fatigue doesn’t it?
  • One last thing I will mention that the Hornets did very well defensively was dislodging the ball.  I do not know how many times they tipped or slapped the ball out of the hand of a Nugget player who was gathering himself to shoot.  I do not think the Nuggets were ready for the hands the Hornets displayed.  Even Peja got into the act tipping the ball away from Melo a couple of times.

Mindboggling Game Stats

Pace Factor:  87.4

Defensive Efficiency:  108.7 – Much higher than what they did in the first two games, but not bad.  If they can hold New Orleans in that area for game four it should be good enough to win.

Offensive Efficiency:  106.4 – This was the area that really killed them.  The jumpers stopped falling and so did their efficiency.

Featured Blogs:  Hornets 247 | At the Hive

2008-09 Game 81: Denver Nuggets 118 – Sacramento Kings 98

Box Score | Highlights

Even if J.R. Smith was stalked, fouled and grabbed to the extent he did not a shot at tying the all time NBA record for most three point shots made in a game it was still a historic night at the Pepsi Center.  The Denver Nuggets clinched the Northwest Division title, a top three seed in the Western Conference Playoffs including home court advantage for the first time in any playoff series since the 1988 post season and they tied the all time franchise record for most wins in a season at 54.  J.R. Smith’s 45 points set a new career high and tied the Nuggets’ team season single game high Carmelo set against the Timberwolves in his 33 point quarter game.

The Nuggets deserve a great deal of credit for getting to this point.  Before the season they had been written off by a majority of the NBA.  They were picked to finish third in the division by a group of Northwest Division bloggers and were thought to be lottery fodder.  The front office deserves a great deal of credit for not only acquiring players like Chris Andersen, Renaldo Balkman and Dahntay Jones at bargain basement prices and of course for pulling the trigger on the Chauncey Billups trade.  George Karl deserves credit for demanding a little more organization on both ends of the floor and the players deserve credit for getting the job done on the court.

As much as I wish I could celebrate tonight’s historic win it is entirely possible the finale in Portland could determine how far the Nuggets go this season.  In a conference where so many teams are so closely bunched home court advantage in the semifinals could be the deciding factor in who makes it to the conference finals (although I do not feel completely comfortable penciling the Nuggets into the semis just yet).  In order for the Nuggets to have home court against the Rockets they may very well have to win in Portland.  The Blazers will be fighting for home court advantage themselves and would love to knock the Nuggets down to the third seed.  If Denver loses and Houston wins on Wednesday no matter what the Spurs do Houston will be the second seed and Denver the third.

Even with only one game in the regular season remaining there are three potential playoff partners for the Nuggets.  Bachelorette number one is an underachiever who has the whole package.  Say hello to the Utah Jazz.  Bachelorette number two has been used and abused, but appears may be getting her act together.  Give a big Dating Game welcome to the Dallas Mavericks.  Bachelorette number three was last year’s darling that everyone wanted to get their hands on, but has managed to stay in the news thanks to the diva in her that leads the way.  Let’s hear it for the New Orleans Hornets (that’s right, I just called Chris Paul a diva).

The Jazz close out their season tomorrow night in Los Angeles against the Lakers who have nothing to play for.  Houston heads to Dallas and a victory by the Mavs would give the Nuggets the second seed regardless what happens in Portland.  The Hornets finish up in San Antonio against the banged up Spurs who can still finish anywhere from third to fifth in the west. 

There you have it.  Denver is the Northwest Division champion and will be hanging at least one new banner in the Pepsi Center next season.  Congratulations to the Denver Nuggets, but do not go thinking any of us are satisfied yet.

Additional Game 81 Nuggets

  • All of the excitement was almost enough to wipe the memory of the horrific defense the Nuggets played in the first half from my pulsating grey matter.  If anyone has their finger on the pulse of this team it is me.  As I expected the Nuggets came roaring out of the gate and laid the smack down on the hapless Kings from the start…or not.  Even as Scott Hastings was talking about how the plan heading into the game was to be aggressive and attack the pick and roll the Nuggets were switching everything.  The result was watching the Kings being able to basically pick their shots and they were able to get off to a hot start just like they did in the previous meeting.
  • The Nuggets made their first move once the bench came into the game and Chris Andersen, J.R. and Linas Kleiza immediately made a mark on the game.  As flashy as Smith’s explosion was Andersen put on a clinic with how a player can alter a game without scoring.  Birdman only took one shot, but managed to collect ten rebounds and blocked five shots on his way to posting a +25 for the game which only trailed Kleiza’s +32.
  • That is right, Kleiza actually led the Nuggets in plus/minus which I have to believe is a first for this season.  Kleiza missed his only three, I can allow one attempt a game I guess, but he did hit a couple of long midrange jumpers.  His real damage came at the rim though as he was aggressive with his right hand drive.  He even passed the ball on a fast break which led to a hockey assist as Anthony Carter dished off to Nene for a thunderous slam.  Once again this was a Kleiza I can live with.  I have said that a couple of times lately and I can only hope LK carries his aggressive offensive play into the post season and he does not turn back into the chucker who launches four or five three point bricks every outing.
  • In the second half the Nuggets did increase the defensive intensity, but they still had a difficult time defending the simple down screens and cross screens the Kings were running to free up their shooters.  Fortunately for Denver the Kings shooters grew cold as J.R. caught fire.  The only player they could not contain was Ike Diogu who made some truly insane shots.  Chris Marlowe said Diogu looked like Karl Malone as he tallied 32 points and 11 rebounds.  The big question is why does he not play more?  Look no further than his team worst -25 which may be somewhat indicative of his prowess when it comes to playing team defense.
  • As much as J.R. drives me nuts with his histrionics after making shots I have to say I was impressed with the maturity he showed in the closing seconds.  He had the ball and was left alone as the clock wound down.  He dribbled towards mid court and many were prompting him to take one last shot at tying the record for three point makes in a single game.  I think he really considered it, but he let the clock run out without another attempt.  I thought it was a classy decision.
  • Carmelo had a very well rounded performance.  His shooting percentage was a little low, but I thought he was aggressive attacking the basket and his passing continued to impress.  Melo was credited with nine assists and they came in a variety of settings.  He had a nice drive and dish pass off to Kenyon for a dunk, a pass out of the post to a cutter for a layup, he had a drive and kick out for a three and a pass out of a double team for a three, a skip pass for a three and an alley oop to Kenyon for a sweet dunk.
  • Speaking of Kenyon it was good to see him back and he seemed healthy, but he did have the ugly play of the night when he flat out shoved Spencer Hawes when Hawes was in the air for a dunk attempt.  Hawes has had knee issues as he actually underwent microfracture surgery in high school and I think he had another knee injury in college.  We can only hope it is nothing serious.  Kenyon was tagged with a flagrant one.  At first I thought a flagrant two and an ejection were warranted, but after looking at the play a few times Kenyon did not push him hard and I do not think he intended to do anything other than prevent the dunk.  Even so it was an irresponsible play and I thought Hawes showed very good sportsmanship as he walked by Kenyon and gave him a pat as he went to the bench after his free throws.
  • The Nuggets had been struggling on the defensive boards and Sacramento came into the game with Jason Thompson having been on a tear averaging 5.3 offensive rebounds a game in April.  The Nuggets held the Kings to only nine offensive rebounds and Thompson only managed one.  I thought Birdman did not take himself out of the play nearly as much as he did against the Lakers going after shots he had no business attacking and the Kings are just not nearly as physically imposing as some teams. 
  • Here is what I have pieced together based on the most recent tie breaking information I could find from the NBA.  Should Denver lose while both Houston and the Spurs win on Wednesday (resulting in Denver, Houston, San Antonio and Portland all finishing with 54 wins), Houston will win the Southwest Division and the second seed.  Houston and San Antonio actually split the first three tie breaker criteria of head to head record (2-2), division record (both currently 9-6) and conference record (both currently 35-16), but based on Houston’s better record against Western Conference playoff teams (the Rockets are currently 16-13 while the Spurs are 14-14) they would prevail.  Therefore, if the Rockets win the division and end up tying the Nuggets in the standings and because both would be division winners, Houston’s head to head 3-1 advantage would carry the day.  The Trail Blazers would be the fourth seed and the Spurs the fifth seed due to Portland’s 3-1 series win over the Spurs.

Mindboggling Game Stats

Pace Factor:  96.0

Defensive Efficiency:   102.1 – Pretty good considering the competition although the first half was a nightmare.

Offensive Efficiency:  122.9 – Pretty good considering the competition although when one of your players hits 11 threes you should have a pretty good offensive rating.

Featured Blog:   Sactown Royalty

2008-09 Game 75: Denver Nuggets 111 – New York Knickerbockers 104

Box Score | Highlights

As frustrating as it was watching the Denver Nuggets almost give up a 27 point lead against a team who had lost eight of nine and was playing their fourth game in five nights it was a heck of a lot better than the night Spurs fans experienced. 

The Nuggets did indeed clinch a playoff berth in March for the first time in 21 seasons, but more importantly thanks to the Spurs 96-95 loss at home to Oklahoma City the Nuggets have moved into second place all by themselves in the Western Conference.  As long as the Nuggets can win all four of their remaining easier games (home against the Clippers, Thunder and Kings and on the road versus Minnesota) and even just one of their three more difficult games (at home against Utah and on the road against the Lakers and Trail Blazers) they will post 54 wins.  Should Denver reach the 54 win mark, tying the franchise record, they will force one of the team’s trailing them to play almost perfect basketball to catch them. 

When you put the Nuggets’ near collapse into perspective with how other teams have been giving games away I am going to have a difficult time complaining, but I think I can still find it in me.

That was definitely not playoff caliber basketball.  Even as the Nuggets built up their 27 point second quarter lead their defense was less than impressive.  It consisted of switching screens and giving up second chance after second chance.  If it were not for a plethora of unforced turnovers where the Knicks basically handed the ball to the Nuggets which lead to a hoard of easy fast break baskets, this game could have been much different. 

On offense if the Nuggets were not cashing in on a mindless turnover they were usually jacking up a long jumper.  For the first 18 minutes those jumpers were falling.  After that it was a different story.  When a miss by J.R. Smith 5:41 left in the second quarter announced the Nuggets hot shooting the Nuggets were dominating the scoring.  Soon thereafter Denver had scored 64 points in roughly the first 20 minutes.  Things quickly changed as Denver would only score 47 more points over the final 28 minutes.  A big reason for that was the jump shot happy offense as they only tallied 18 points in the paint during the final 28 minutes. 

As soft as I think the Nuggets played you have to give the Knicks credit for never giving up.  Even on their fourth game in five nights, coming off a disappointing loss in Utah the night before where they fought back from a 24 point margin to actually take a one point lead before losing by eight and in the midst of a terrible streak that has ended any hope of their making the playoffs the Knicks played hard all night long.  The biggest key for the Knicks comeback was they stopped making the silly passes that resulted in 30 first half fast break points.  New York only turned the ball over three times between the 4:54 mark of the second quarter and the end of the third quarter. 

In fact the Knicks actually made two strong comebacks.  After closing the 27 point lead down to three at 80-77 the Nuggets rebuilt their lead back up to 17 in the fourth quarter only to watch the Knicks claw their way back to within six points over the next three minutes.  Denver was not good on offense or defense for most of the second half and they almost let this one slip away.

Well, that is the negative stuff.  As I pointed out earlier the Nuggets managed to pull out the kind of game that other Western Conference teams are losing.  I thought Melo played another solid offensive game at least aside from his 2-6 performance at the free throw line.  He was the only Nugget who attacked the rim even somewhat regularly and he was looking to feed the ball to cutters when he could which netted him four assists, but also four turnovers.  Strangely enough in a seven point win Carmelo was the only starter with a positive plus minus (+10) while everyone on the bench posted a positive number. 

Tomorrow night the Jazz come to Denver and I think they deserve a pretty good beat down.

Additional Game 75 Nuggets

 

  • In case you are keeping track since the day I wrote my post proclaiming the Nuggets were heading for another one a done playoff appearance, which I have not yet recanted by the way, they have gone 9-1 with the only loss coming on the road against the Suns.  When I wrote that post I underestimated two things.  One was the ease of the Nuggets’ schedule and the other was the competition.  Despite the return of Manu GInobili the Spurs are struggling to win games.  The Hornets are without Tyson Chandler and have lost to the Knicks and Bulls in their last ten games.  The Jazz are giving up big leads game after game at home and losing on the road.  Other than the Nuggets the Rockets and Trail Blazers have played pretty well, but both have had a couple of losses due to difficult schedules.  Even the Lakers recently lost two in a row.  Teams are simply not playing their best ball right now.
  • Linas Kleiza started out the game as he played for most of the previous win against the Warriors.  He was only taking shots when he was at the rim and I was pleased.  However, by the end of the night he did attempt three long bombs.  He did make one and a second barely rattled out.  I actually find myself rooting for him to miss his threes as if doing so would somehow make him decide to only shoot layups and dunks and thus be more useful. 
  • The Knicks were credited with only 13 offensive rebounds for the game, which I did not believe based on what I saw with my eyes.  After perusing the play by play for offensive rebounds and ignoring the nefarious ones that are credited following free throws or at the end of quarters the Knicks should have had 15 and I still think that number is low.  Eleven of those 15 came in the first half. 

Mindboggling Game Stats

Pace Factor:  102.7 – Back to back formula one style games.

Defensive Efficiency:  101.2 – Thank you 21 turnovers.

Offensive Efficiency:  108.0 – Worst showing since the loss to Houston 11 games ago.  Where would they have been without all those 30 first half fast break points?

Featured Blogs:  Knickerblogger | Posting and Toasting | What Would Oakley Do? | Seven Seconds or Mess

2008-09 Game 74: Denver Nuggets 129 – Golden State Warriors 116

Box Score | Highlights

After predictably sleep walking through the first six minutes of the first quarter and falling behind the Golden State Warriors by 14 in the first quarter the Nuggets were able to rouse themselves and run away for an easy win. 

George Karl called a timeout with the Nuggets down 19-6 after the first 6:25 of the game.  From that point on the Nuggets played with more intensity, but it was not until Chris Andersen entered the game with 3:50 remaining in the first quarter and Denver behind 23-11 that the Nuggets took off.  Less than seven minutes later Birdman threw down a vicious slam as he cut down the lane to put the Nuggets up 37-29.  In Birdman’s seven plus first half minutes he was a plus 20.

As soon as Andersen went to the bench Golden State actually briefly recaptured the lead 42-41.  It would be their final lead of the game though as Linas Kleiza hit his first three point jumper in over three weeks on the very next possession to put Denver back up 44-42. 

The run that put the Nuggets in complete control of the game was split between the second and third quarters.  Denver scored the final six points of the first half and the first 13 of the second half turning a 60-57 game into a 79-57 rout.  The Warriors did not get a shot within 18 feet of the rim as the Nuggets did a great job of collapsing on penetration and then rotating and running at shooters.  The Nuggets run actually even extended out to a 44-15 stretch ending with 28 seconds left in the third quarter with the Nuggets already having earned three tacos for a dollar on Sunday at participating Taco Bell’s even with more than a quarter to play.

The key to Denver sweeping the remaining games against sub .500 teams will be energy.  I would like to add focus too, but I do not want to get too greedy.  There was a point just a couple of weeks ago where I did not think we could count on the Nuggets to win any of these games and they still have to avoid falling into the trap of taking things for granted.  It definitely took the Nuggets some time to wake up tonight, but the fact that they erased the early 14 point deficit by the end of the first quarter was very impressive.

A lot can happen over these final eight games, but if Denver can keep playing like they have over the previous three games I may be in for eating a lot of crow and I will not mind one bit.

Additional Game 74 Nuggets

  • Carmelo continued his offensive renaissance.  Once again his jumper was falling, but he played a complete offensive game.  He was going to the rim, posting up and his passing was very nice.  He shot 12-21 and made mostly very good decisions with the ball.
  • The Nuggets captured the lead twice towards the end of the first quarter.  With the Nuggets behind 25-23 Denver forced a turnover, Andersen saved the ball to Melo who threw a long cross court outlet to J.R. smith just outside the Nuggets’ three point line.  Smith spotted Kenyon flying down the middle of the floor.  Smith him Kenyon in stride and Martin threw down a massive jam on top of poor Rob Kurz who was not only emasculated, but was also called for a foul.  Kenyon made the free throw to give Denver their first lead at 26-25.  At the other end Birdman sent back a shot by Azibuike, but was called for goaltending (after watching it several times, it looked like a good block to me) putting Denver back down 27-26.  The Nuggets had the ball with ten seconds left with a chance to reclaim the lead.  Anthony Carter missed a three with about two seconds left and both Kenyon and Birdman rammed the ball down on the rebound.  The play by play on both ESPN.com and NBA.com say Kenyon made a tip shot, but Andersen collected an offensive rebound.  Not sure how that works, but it looked pretty cool. 
  • I abandoned the Nuggets game in favor of watching the Phoenix Suns roar back from a 21 point deficit in Utah to take a late seven point lead only to see Grant Hill make mistake after mistake as the Jazz came back and won in overtime.  When I saw the final score I pictured a dismal effort in the fourth quarter by the Nuggets that would make me sick to my stomach.  The Warriors scored 42 points, how badly did Denver roll over?  After actually watching the play on the court I was surprised at how hard the Nuggets did play.  They were still scrambling, tipping passes, forcing turnovers and going after loose balls.  The Warriors did not see many open shots, and the ones that were wide open usually came off some kind of scramble or turnover not a dereliction of duty by the Nuggets defense.  After all the lineup on the floor was Carter, Smith, Kleiza, Balkman and Birdman.  We know Carter, Balkman and Birdman do not take plays off.  Smith and Kleiza were playing hard too.  My only real gripe with the Nuggets’ play in the fourth was J.R. took a couple of bad threes early in possessions that were not very wise.  The warriors just caught fire. 
  • Part of the Warriors’ comeback was an amazing individual spurt by Jamal Crawford.  With 9:26 left in the game Jamal Crawford nailed a three and Renaldo Balkman was called for a foul on the play.  Carwford hit the free throw for a rare four point play.  The next trip down the court Crawford hit another three with 9:14 left to play and Andersen was called for fouling him on the shot and Crawford made the free throw.  Back to back four point plays by the same player 12 seconds apart.  I am guessing that is an NBA first.  I have submitted an email to the powers that be to see if they can have someone look into it.   Scoring eight points in 12 seconds can be a good way to end up with a 40 plus point quarter.
  • Poor C.J. Watson probably got a kick out of Crawford’s four point plays, but he paid a heavy price for it.  Both fouls could be considered relatively weak calls, especially the one on Andersen, so a couple of minutes later when Watson was absolutely wiped out by a soaring Birdman in the left corner on a three point attempt all three refs turned a blind eye.
  • In the game recap of the win in Dallas I talked about earning things on the floor.  If you do a little something extra, something unselfish, you tend to get rewarded.  Linas Kleiza caught the ball on the left wing and Nene began to go to the weak side when Kleiza waived him back over and he had Nene post up and Kleiza passed him the ball.  Nene tried spinning into the middle of the lane and had to throw a bail out pass to Chauncey who took a three right before the shot clock expired.  Kleiza crashed the boards and collected the offensive rebound.  He then rose up and threw down a powerful dunk right in front of Ronny Turiaf.  It was the first basket of the Nuggets 19-0 run that spanned the second and third quarters.
  • Anthony Carter once again showed he is at his best in a fast paced game.  He ended up with 13 assists and only one turnover.  Seven of his 13 assists lead to layups or dunks.
  • I can handle this Linas Kleiza.  He did force four three point attempts, but can you blame him?  He actually made one.  However, he scored 14 of his 22 points on layups or dunks and shot 8-10 on two point attempts.  Lose the four three point attempts and we can talk.
  • How impressive is Anthony Randolph?  He is all over the court and thanks to his athleticism and length is already a great offensive rebounder.  In 30 minutes he pulled down eight offensive boards and had an amazing possession where he blocked back to back shots at the rim.  He is also an emotional player who wants to win.  I think he has an amazing future.
  • If one of Karl’s big objections to playing Balkman is his lack of a jumper Renaldo decided to make a case for more playing time tonight.  He was 4-4 from the floor, but two of those shots were from 15 feet and one was a three.  What do you think of that George?
  • Right now Denver and Houston are tied in the standings and although Denver lost the season series to Houston I kept seeing them in the third seed and Houston in the fourth seed.  I thought that was flat out wrong and almost wrote about how messed up the standings were.  Tonight Altitude taught me that if two teams are tied the first tiebreaker is whether or not one of those teams is a division winner.  That means all the consternation about Denver losing the season series to Houston is really meaningless.  As long as the Nuggets can hold onto the Division lead they can be the third seed and avoid the Lakers in the second round.  And here I thought I knew everything.  It was people like me who built the Titanic and said it was unsinkable.  When will I learn?

Mindboggling Game Stats:

Pace Factor:  102.9 – Lightning fast.  It was the fastest paced game since the Nuggets game 36 home win against Indiana.

Defensive Efficiency:  112.8 – Not terrible for such a fast paced game.  The Warriors scored 17 fast break points and nabbed 19 offensive boards which both hurt this number.  I imagine it was much better before Golden State’s offensive explosion in the fourth.

Offensive Efficiency:  125.4 – No complaints.  Remember, the Nuggets had six points more than six minutes into the game and still managed to score 129.

Featured Blog:  Golden State of Mind

2008-09 Game 72: Denver Nuggets 101 – New Orleans Hornets 88

Box Score | Highlights

The Denver Nuggets have answered.  With their backs against the wall they chose to fight and Denver came out swinging tonight against the New Orleans Hornets.  The Nuggets utilized a consistently solid defensive effort to a 101-88 victory in New Orleans.  It is the Nuggets first road win against a team with a winning record since February 18 and the first time they have defeated one of the other top nine teams in the west since beating the Mavs on December 15.

With Peja Stojakovic and Tyson Chandler out George Karl chose to implement an aggressive trapping defense designed to keep Chris Paul out of the lane on the pick and roll.  Things started out a little rough as the Hornets scored two layups in their first three possessions due to the attention the Nuggets were giving Paul.  I was concerned that they would struggle attempting to execute a defense they had not utilized very infrequently and never for long stretches.

The Nuggets did a good job of adjusting on the fly and the Hornets easy looks slowly became few and far between.  As we have pointed out in the past an aggressive scheme provides the impetus to play with energy while a lazier scheme, such as switching screens, saps the intensity from a team and leads to sloppy disinterested defense.  By trapping and forcing him towards the midcourt Denver was able to disrupt the Hornets offense on the way to claiming a 28-21 lead at the end of the first quarter.  line the Nuggets were able to force Chris Paul into committing six turnovers and thanks to the harassing defense applied by Dahntay Jones, Chauncey Billups and to a lesser extent Anthony Carter Paul struggled to get anything going on offense. 

Paul did take advantage of ten trips to the free throw line, a couple of which were quite dubious, to record 19 points and he was credited with 13 assists, but he finished a game worst -19.

Offensively Carmelo had a couple of dominant stretches.  He started the game off making six of his first eight shots and scored 13 points in the first nine minutes of the game.  It was good to see Melo step up and hit some shots.  He helped set the tone for Denver on offense and let them know that even without Nene they can put points on the board.

Strangely enough the Hornets clawed back in the game in the second quarter with Chris Paul on the bench.  It was the second time in three games where Denver has allowed Antonio Daniels to make a run while Paul was sitting on the sidelines.  Both teams went small to start the second quarter with Balkman playing power forward for Denver and James Posey played the four for New Orleans.  It was the only stretch of the game where New Orleans made any shots.  When Daniels made a three just over four minutes into the quarter the Nuggets’ lead had vanished and the game was tied at 33.

The third quarter played out the same as the first with Carmelo scoring eight straight points and twelve in the quarter as the Nuggets once again took control.  Denver entered the fourth quarter up nine points, but with the sting of the loss in Phoenix still fresh in my mind and the memory of how the Hornets erased a first quarter lead quickly in the second I was far from confident. 

Fortunately Denver did not suffer from the same problem.  They came out of the break on fire hitting their first six shots and doubling their nine point advantage.  At that point it became clear New Orleans simply did not have the firepower to keep up.  Paul was at least somewhat contained, David West was playing terribly and no one else was stepping up to fill the void.  When Chris Paul was walking the ball up the court with just over six minutes left in the game and Denver up 18 I knew the Hornets did not have any fight left in them.

While tonight’s victory was far from a perfect win, it was the best effort the Nuggets had put forth from start to finish in a long time.  Fans always seem to call for their teams to play with desperation, but such a request is highly disingenuous.  Think about the times you have been desperate, and I am not talking about in seventh grade when you wanted to touch the hot girl’s booby.  I am talking about when you are out of money and payday is nor for another four days or when you are in a store and suddenly realize you are not 100% sure where your kid is.  Now imagine your boss asks you to put some desperation into the project you are working on.  Is the adrenaline rush and fear in your gut anywhere near the same level?  True desperation cannot be conjured from thin air.  Monday night Phoenix was desperate (and fortunately they were still desperate tonight as they beat the Jazz) and tonight the Nuggets were the desperate team.

Now we move from fight or flight to a prove it game.  They showed us some fight, now they have to prove to us that it was not a fluke as they must once again play without Nene on the road against a team chasing them in the standings. 

Additional Game 72 Nuggets

  • I mentioned in my preview how Chris Paul is always the best player on the floor when these two teams play and his supporting cast does enough for the Hornets to win.  Tonight I think both Chauncey Billups and Carmelo were better than Paul.  At worst they were comparable and Paul did not get much help from his teammates.  Rasual Butler is typically a Nugget killer, and he shot well when he received the ball tonight, but in over 30 minutes of floor time, he only attempted four shots.  James Posey was terrible.  We already mentioned how badly David West struggled and for some reason in the fourth quarter they kept force feeding him the ball on the right block, which made no sense.
  • I found it interesting that Karl basically shrunk his rotation down to six players in the second half after Dahntay Jones and Johan Petro left the game in the third quarter.  It was a glimpse into who Karl really trusts and I think it is safe to say he, like most of us, has lost trust in Linas Kleiza who played a paltry 6:25.
  • I do not understand why Hilton Armstrong does not get more minutes, at least against the Nuggets.  Instead of trying to prove the signing of Posey was a stroke of genius by playing small, put Armstrong in the game and let him rattle around in the lane.
  • I mentioned that the Nuggets play was far from perfect.  The fact remains that they were almost exclusively a jump shooting team.  Of their 101 points, only 30 came in the lane.  During their offensive explosion to start the fourth quarter five of their six makes were long jumpers.  I doubt anyone noticed while the game was unfolding, I know I did not, that the Nuggets only scored seven points over the final 7:38.  Even if they only go 3-6 to start the quarter the game may have been completely different.

Mindboggling Game Stats

Pace Factor:  87.4

Defensive Efficiency:  100.7 – Solid.

Offensive Efficiency:  115.6 – Pretty efficient considering they were without their highest percentage shooter.

Featured Blogs:  Hornets 24/7 | At the Hive

Digging Around in the Nuggets’ Psyche

The Denver Nuggets are showing signs of frustration, both individually and collectively, and it is to their detriment.  We all saw Nene lose his cool on Louis Amundson.  I wish I could post some video showing what had been going on between the two leading up to Nene’s meltdown, but my DVD recording of the game somehow came up empty.

Ultimately, to me it does not matter what Amundson did or did not do Nene cannot respond the way he did.  I do not care if he went Reggie Evans on Nene’s undercarriage what he did was unacceptable.  The really sad thing is Nene got away with his little head butt.  Had he left it at that no harm done, but it was not enough.  He had to drop his elbow on Amundson’s noggin too.

Amundson was not content with Nene getting kicked out of the game, he wants to set up a futon and move into Nene’s head full time.  He kept needling Nene after the fact calling him a “fake tough guy” and even a “dirty player” in an interview with Chris Tomasson of In Denver Times.

“I’m playing hard and with a lot of energy, and Nene took exception to the fact that I was going to play physical back with him,’’ Amundson said. “I play hard, but he was playing dirty the whole game. He was elbowing me. … He was hitting me in the head and the neck.’’

Once again I am as upset as you I do not have video of what was really happening, but I believe Nene has let the frustration of missed calls build inside him over the season to a point where after every play he is looking at the referees in disgust.  He has to let it go.  Where has all the complaining and glaring gotten him?  After a while you are only hurting yourself.  I have written it before, but if you make a scene after every play it makes it easy for the ref to ignore you.  If you are more judicious with your protests it will make a much stronger point.

However, even more important than Nene’s fractured relationship with the officials is that he allowed that frustration to provide the fuel for his actions last night.  Amundson may have been the recipient of the tantrum, but he was the just the spark that ignited the primed frustration based fuel. 

Tonight the Nuggets face the Hornets in a game that will be even more difficult than the one they lost in Phoenix and there is a possibility they will be facing the Hornets without Nene.  If Nene ends up being suspended I am guessing a big reason for it will be his reaction to the flagrant foul call when he tried to get in Bill Spooner’s face.  Of course as Scott Hastings pointed out on the broadcast Spooner certainly did not try to avoid a confrontation almost reveling in Nene’s reaction to the call.  Regardless of whether or not Spooner welcomed the confrontation Nene must control himself.

Should Maybyner end up missing the Hornets game the Nuggets’ chances for a win fall from unlikely to get ready to play Dallas. 

Nene is not the only Nugget in the news for flipping his lid.  Linas Kleiza has been fined $25,000 for going off on an official or officials.  At this time there are no details.  The report states that the confrontation occurred after the Wizards game.

I may have a blank DVD of the Suns game, but thank God I do have all of the Nuggets/Wizards tilt on a DVD so I went back and checked to see if I could see anything.  Dahntay Jones shot two free throws with 11 seconds left and Kleiza was paying no attention to the officials and seemed quite docile.  Following the final horn Kleiza paid his respects to countryman Darius Songailia and the last I saw him he was turning to walk to the locker room near midcourt.  There was one official who was potentially in his path, but a few seconds later when we get a shot of the entire court I could not locate Kleiza, but he was definitely not lingering on the floor and there was no sign of the referees either. 

Once again whatever frustration Kleiza felt was most likely due to the fact he has not hit a non sky hook three point shot in a couple of weeks.  Fortunately for the Nuggets the only problem is Kleiza might continue his downward spiral, but as long as his minutes keep shrinking, no harm done.

Above and beyond these two incidents I am seriously concerned about the mental state of this team and I am not only talking about the players.  George Karl has been up to his old tricks downplaying the importance of any single game or series of games.  The Nuggets “stated goal” for the three game road trip is to win two of the three games. 

What on earth is wrong with saying our goal is to win all three games, take advantage of the way the Spurs have opened the door for us to challenge them for the second seed and take the second seed for ourselves?  I would love to hear my team talk like that.  It would fire me up.  This may sound a bit wacky and forgive me for thinking such ridiculous thoughts, but maybe that type of attitude might even spill over into their play on the floor.  Instead of coming out flatter than the back tire of Charles Barkley’s scooter maybe, just maybe, they would be fired up to meet a challenge instead of lulled into a false sense of security.

I strongly believe organizations win championships and as long as the Nuggets are managing risk by aiming for ten win months or hoping to split these games or those games the players will never be pushed to excel and mediocrity will rule the day.

This team has always been a little too content with itself.  Last year the reasoning was “So what if we are only the eighth seed and have to play the top seeded Lakers, we won 50 games and that makes us a special team.”  Never mind the fact that on average there are six 50 win teams in the Western Conference every season.  How special is that?  If you end up in the top 40% of something is it a cause for celebration?  In fact the Nuggets were not even that good.  They were eighth out of 15 teams, but the season was still seen as a feather in the organization’s plucked cap.

If someone told me I was in the top eight out of the 15 Nuggets blogs on the Internet I would not be patting myself on the back even if I had just made my first post the day before.  If my daughter tells me I am in the top eight dads of the kids in her class I am not going to tell everyone how there were a lot of great dads I had to compete with.

We have talked at length about how Denver has struggled after the All-Star break.  Let me put it in perspective for you.  Out of the nine teams vying for a playoff spot in the west Denver has far and away the worst record.  Thanks to their five game winning streak against the Thunder, Clippers, Nets, Grizzlies and Wizards (woo-hoo!) Denver is 9-9 since the break.  Utah is 14-3, New Orleans is 14-5, Houston is 15-5, Portland is 12-8 and even the Mavs (13-7) and Suns (13-8) have better post break records.  The Spurs are the only team who is close to slumping as badly as the Nuggets and they are still 11-8 even though Manu Ginobili is out and they have been resting Tim Duncan.

The Nuggets are practically in a dead heat with the six teams fighting for the three up for grabs home court positions and they are the only team who is in a state of disarray.

After the loss to the Rockets I proclaimed I believed the Nuggets were heading for another first round exit.   With their sloppy play over their five game winning streak and then the loss in Phoenix last night I still stand firmly behind that post.

2008-09 Game 70: Denver Nuggets 116 – Washington Wizards 105

Box Score | Highlights

Apparently the Denver Nuggets did not learn much from their battle against the Grizzlies.  Despite cruising to a relatively easy 116-105 win against the Washington Wizards the Nuggets played incredibly soft defense in the first quarter and allowed the Wizards to get off to a very good start.

Antawn Jamison shredded Kenyon Martin with his typical variety of offensive talents.  From awkward push shots to long range bombs Kenyon had no shot at slowing down Jamison.  The sad thing was at least he was trying to defend Jamison because neither he nor any of the other Nuggets seemed interested in playing any team defense. 

Kenyon may have had a difficult time with Jamison and I do not think anyone will think any less of him because of it, but Nene was the real problem on defense.  With 7:57 left in the first quarter Kenyon faded back into the lane as James dribbled away from a screen set by Jamison.  James passed it back to the wide open Jamison, but J.R. Smith rotated very crisply and Jamison passed to Dominic McGuire, who J.R. left to cover Jamison.  Kenyon was still in the lane and Nene was covering Darius Songaila in the corner.  Kenyon started drifting towards the corner expecting Nene to rotate up to McGuire.  Nene never budged and then Kenyon just decided that if Nene was not going to cover McGuire neither was he and he just hung back in the lane.  McGuire drove into the lane and hit a runner over Kenyon all made possible by Nene’s decision to impersonate a statue.

To make things worse the Nuggets were switching a lot of screens.  Nene allowed a layup by Jamison on a pick and roll when he started to switch with J.R. and ran towards the weak side with McGuire even though J.R. was right there.  Songailia then set a screen for Jamison and Nene was nowhere to be found. 

Kenyon was called for his second foul at 3:05 of the first quarter on a sequence where James cut through to the right corner and Jamison cut up to the right wing.  Instead of sticking with their men Chauncey and Kenyon switched.  Jamison cut to the rim and Chauncey was not big enough to defend him.  Kenyon was having to play further from the lane than normal due to James’ ability to hit the three.  When Jamison received the pass Chauncey could not stop him and Kenyon was too far out to help at the rim.

J.R. Smith was the real story of the night though.  His play on offense was nothing short of exceptional.  He posted his second career 40 point game and what was most impressive about it was it was not due to a barrage of threes.  He only scored nine of his 40 points on threes.  His career high 43 points were generated largely by his 8-15 performance from behind the arc.  We should have known J.R. was in for a big night when he scored the first bucket of the game from the post.  I think it was the first time in his career that Smith scored from the block.  He caught the ball, spun baseline on the bigger McGuire and laid the ball in on the far side of the rim.

J.R. was in the lane all night long.  He scored 22 points in the paint on a variety of drives, dunks and short jumpers.  He even dropped in a running hook.  His defense has been better ever since the last Laker game where he took the challenge of guarding Kobe Bryant.  Offensively he has taken his game to another level since being named a starter. 

If there is something that can push the Nuggets to a higher level down the stretch and in the playoffs it would be J.R. taking another step forward on offense.  

While the Nuggets did capitalize on the recent five game stretch against inferior opposition to get back into first place in the Northwest Division and back to 20 games over .500 they only played two quarters of exceptional defense, the first quarter against the Nets and the fourth against the Grizzlies.  They now embark on a crucial three game road trip that takes them to Phoenix, New Orleans and Dallas.  They may have a five game winning streak, but they will need to raise their level of play on defense in order to earn success in any of those three games.

Additional Game 70 Nuggets

  • During Kenyon’s absence George Karl talked about missing the high low game with Kenyon at the top fo the circle and Nene on the block.  Coming out of a timeout called with 7:33 left in the first Kenyon made a beautiful pass to Nene who turned and threw down an easy dunk.
  • The starters were very subdued on both ends of the floor aside from J.R.  He was the only one creating offense for the Nuggets and there was very little running.  Things perked up when Chris Andersen entered the game.  The Nuggets were down 26-20 when he started playing and within 40 seconds he had a big put back dunk off a missed three and less than two minutes later he threw down another dunk to put the Nuggets ahead one 29-28.  Denver dominated the paint offensive all night, but when Birdman was in the game Denver dominated the lane on defense too.  Andersen played one of the best games of his career posting a career high in points with 18, pulled down 11 boards and sent back six shots.  Perhaps most impressively his eight shot attempts traveled a combined distance of probably 18 inches.  Every shot he took was a dunk, tip or layup.  The one shot he missed he tipped in. 
  • There was much consternation amongst many Nuggets fans upon hearing Karl wanted to give Kleiza more minutes.  Fortunately Balkman came off the bench before Kleiza did and played 25 minutes to Kleiza’s 16 and the only reason Kleiza played that much was because LK was in for all of garbage time.  I thought Kleiza might have been in for a decent game after hitting a nice 16 footer on the baseline and then making a pretty dish from the free throw line down to Balkman on the baseline for a layup, but then he switched into selfish mode refusing to pass the ball to AC in the backcourt to start a possession, then he drove and threw up a bad leaner off a weak spin move and next came a brick from the left wing with both feet on the three point line.  Karl has said that he wants to get Kleiza going, but Kleiza has to realize there is more to basketball than hitting jumpers.  As long as you do not do anything else well and simply live by the jump shot, you are going to be useless when your shot is not falling.  Then throw in the fact that he is not a particularly good shooting in the first place and that is a recipe for disaster. 
  • It was interesting to see Dahntay Jones stuck to the bench for the second time in five games as he only played in garbage time.  Even so he was cheering vociferously from the bench, which is good to see.
  • How about Maya Starks discussing how she loves watching J.R. dunk on the break away and before she could finish her sentence J.R. stole the ball, raced up the floor and threw down a nice double clutch reverse.  OK Maya, now I want you to talk about how much you love seeing me find a treasure chest full of Spanish Doubloons in my back yard.
  • Kenyon’s back seems to be fine.  He took some shots that put pressure on his back and I never saw him flinch or stiffen up once.
  • It is interesting to see how the sport of basketball rewards you for doing things right.  With 4:39 left in the third J.R. passed up an open three from the corner in order to drive.  He made the layup and was fouled.  Soon thereafter with 3:05 left in the quarter J.R. set up for a three on a fast break.  When he caught the ball I said to myself, “You’ve earned it” and sure enough it hit nothing by nylon. 
  • Balkman looked like he strained his groin again, but even though he missed time two games ago because of his groin he never even had to come out of the game.  Either he has a really low tolerance for pain or his groin is made of rubber.
  • Anthony Carter played the ideal game.  Ten assists and only three shot attempts.
  • Carmelo has been passing the ball much more willingly lately.  His assist totals are up a little, but they do not fully represent how well he is passing.
  • Karl is usually very careful at not trotting out the scrubs too early in a game and tonight he danced with fire a little putting in Petro, Hart and Jones with only a 12 point lead and over two minutes left.

Mindboggling Game Stats

Pace Factor:  101.0 – Highest pace factor since game 45 at Memphis (101.6).  The 42 combined turnovers played a factor in that as did the fact the Nuggets really ran the floor well in the last three quarters.

Defensive Efficiency:  104.0 – Solid, but not great.  They did force 23 turnovers.  Denver had not forced more than 16 turnovers in a single game since the game in Orlando immediately preceding the All-Star break.

Offensive Efficiency:  114.9 – Chauncey was pretty bad and 19 turnovers did not help, but the Nuggets did shoot 53.0%.

Featured Blog:  Bullets Forever

2008-09 Game 69: Denver Nuggets 111 – Memphis Grizzlies 109

Box Score | Highlights

The Denver Nuggets 111-109 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies was a perfect example of the difference between playing hard and playing with focus.  From the opening tip the Nuggets played hard.  They understood the importance of this game and they wanted to win.  But their hard work returned poor results because their lack of focus created easy scoring opportunities for the Grizzlies. 

Denver snuck to within two points early in the third quarter at 59-57, but then the Grizzlies exploded on a 20-5 run.  The Nuggets were not physically sloughing off, they simply made silly mental errors that allowed the Grizzlies to bag some easy points.

It all started after a nice defensive sequence by Carmelo Anthony who ran Rudy Gay off the three point line shut down a drive attempt and then when Gay went to the basket a second time Melo directed him baseline right into Nene resulting in the ball going out of bounds.   On the inbounds play O.J. Mayo passed the ball into Marc Gasol and then cut past Gasol to the baseline and took a handoff.  Dahntay Jones had been playing Mayo to come to the middle of the floor and was way out of position.  Nene stepped out on Mayo after the handoff and Mayo threw him a shot fake.  Nene left his feet and for some reason Jones, who was trying to get back into the play took a running leap from ten feet away, which even had Mayo shot would have been a completely ineffective challenge.  With Nene and Jones in the air Mayo drive right to the rim and laid in an easy finger roll. 

There was a play where Melo had to tie his shoe and he was late coming down the floor.  As a result of Melo getting into the play late Chauncey only had one option to trigger the offense and that was Kenyon on the left wing.  (Of course, Chauncey could have waited a couple more seconds to let Melo get back into the play or he could have penetrated or even shot, but he did not.)  Darrell Arthur realized Chauncey wanted to pass the ball to Kenyon and he overplayed him.  Despite telegraphing the pas and seeing Arthur all over Kenyon Chauncey passed the ball anyway.  Of course Arthur stole the pass and took it the other way for a pretty sweet slam.

After Melo missed a layup the Grizzlies went the other way on a quasi fat break.  Despite having four players back no one noticed Arthur running right down the middle of the floor.  Nene stayed at the three point line to help guard Mike Conley even though J.R. was right there too.  Chauncey was in the lane, but had his back to the ball looking at Mayo who was on the right wing outside the three point line.  Kenyon was under the basket watching Rudy Gay, but he also had his back to the play.  Arthur netted another dunk and the Grizzlies were up twelve 73-61.

During another Memphis possession Mayo took a shot from the top of the circle and J.R. ran out.  Gasol collected the long rebound and Mayo cut from where he shot to the left wing.  As J.R. came back in the play he just ran to the middle of the lane instead of running to Mayo and once Mayo received the pass from Gasol no one rotated over to him. 

The run was capped off by a Gay three point play where he received the ball on the left baseline with Melo on him.  Kenyon came over and doubled him.  With the double team Melo had the responsibility to close off the baseline and Kenyon was to cut off a move to the middle.  Even with his defensive responsibilities but in half (not having to worry about Gay driving right to the middle of the floor, Carmelo barely moved as Gay blew right past him along the baseline.  Nene was in position to help, but reached instead of stepping in and Gay made a spectacular layup on the far side of the hoop and cashed in the free throw. 

The Nuggets were playing hard, but they were playing with no focus or attention to detail.  Because of that they saw a two point deficit balloon up to 17 in barely more than five minutes.

Even down 17 in the third the Nuggets managed to come back, but doing so not only required an increase in physical effort, but mental effort as well.  In the fourth quarter the Nuggets played as hard as they have all season. 

Denver was behind 100-88 with eight minutes left.  Their comeback was triggered by an aggressive play trap a pick and roll by Renaldo Balkman who tipped the ball away from Conley and forced it out of bounds off of him. 

To me the key play was all about hustle though.  Melo tried passing the ball up the floor and his pass was tipped by Gay.  J.R. ran the ball down just before it went out of bounds along the right sideline and passed it to Balkman on the block who immediately kicked it out to Melo for a three.  The lead was down to eight at 100-92 and the Nuggets energy and focus was increasing on defense with every possession.

J.R. was hounding Mayo everywhere he went and on an ensuing possession after J.R. chased Mayo from one side of the floor to the other Mayo came off a screen and Chauncey pinched over from the top of the circle and forced a turnover. 

Next J.R. picked Conley up full court trying to pressure him into a mistake.  Conley ran off a Gasol screen where  Nene hedged and forced him towards the sideline.  J.R. was a little slow recovering, but after chasing Conley into the lane he followed the pass to Arthur and blocked his shot from behind. 

After a couple of baskets by the Grizzlies Nene and Balkman doubled Gasol as he spun on the block and got too deep under the rim resulting in a turnover and what followed was the “May the force be with you” moment of the game.  with the Nuggets down three, 104-101, Balkman received a nice pass from Nene, had his shot blocked, and then missed the wide open follow up layup.  He managed to get the rebound again and Kicked the ball out to Chauncey in the left corner.  Billups faked a pass up the sideline to J.R. and that fake drew Mayo out away from the middle of the floor which opened up the weak side wing for Melo.  Chauncey skipped the ball across to Melo who drained a wide open game tying three.

The final huge stop of the game came with the Nuggets up one and 33.2 seconds left in the game.  Memphis isolated Mayo in the middle of the floor near half court.  Gasol came out to set a screen to Mayo’s right.  Mayo never went anywhere near the screen allowing Nene and Anthony Carter to play a soft double.  Gasol then reset the screen and Mayo tried going right off of it.  Carter did a great job of crowding Mayo without fouling to avoid the pick.  Mayo was never able to break free and never looked to pass even though he was in a pack of Nuggets.  Kenyon, who was inserted back into the lineup for that final stand blocked his shot.  Melo made two free throws for the final margin.

Not only did the Nuggets play aggressive physical defense in the fourth quarter, but they also hit their shots.  From the time they were down 17 Denver hit seven threes in 13 attempts.  It is amazing what making shots can do for a team, just ask Sacramento.

I thought Memphis played well and they forced the Nuggets to earn the victory.  While being happy with the result it is once again a little frustrating that Denver could not put together a complete game.  Even with their amped up defense if they miss a couple of threes they lose that game.  Many of you seem to think that the Nuggets will blow through Phoenix and Dallas on the upcoming road trip, but if the Nuggets play like they did tonight they probably lose both of those games.

Additional Game 69 Nuggets

 

  • I thought Kenyon’s decision to foul Gasol before Memphis could get a three point shot off was a good one.  I think he saw Conley coming off clean and wanted to make sure he did not get the open look.  Of course, fouling to avoid allowing a game tying three does not always work, but I like the strategy.
  • In the first quarter the Nuggets were really attacking the rim and it was nice to see them not settling for jumpers, but their aggression was not effective because they were trying to force their offense as individuals.  All night long when they were patient and moved without the ball they were able to get good looks at the rim.  Nene in particular threw down a couple of awesome dunks off of cuts he made through the lane. 
  • I really like Melo’s offense tonight.  He did not settle for long jumpers, but worked to get in the lane either off the drive on from the post.  He did take five threes, but only one was forced and he made three of them.  
  • Balkman looked great alleviating any concerns about his groin.  He is an amazing athlete and covers ground like few humans are capable of doing.  He just recovers so well.  On a couple of occasions he went from the right wing above the three point line down to the left block to cover Hakim Warrick in the post before Memphis could swing the ball and enter it in the post.  He also lunged at post entry passes yet was able to reposition himself behind Warrick before he could start his move. 
  • Chauncey’s really played a poor game.  He had six turnovers and most of them were due to just shockingly poor decisions.
  • In the last minute of the third quarter and the first minute of the fourth both Birdman and Balkman found themselves on Marko Jaric, both left him after he passed and sagged back into the lane and both times he hit an open three. 
  • I thought the game was very physical and there were a lot of plays that resulted in one or two players hitting the floor.  Nene and Gasol really went at it in the post.  It was fun to watch. 
  • Gasol will be in the NBA for a long time.  After watching him play internationally I was not sure how well his game would translate, but he is a big boy who knows how to use his size.  I was also pleasantly surprised with Hamed Haddadi.  Coming into the game he had only played 15 minutes in his rookie season.  He played 18 minutes against the Nuggets and represented himself well.  He is not particularly athletic, but was active.  He showed good awareness and decent hands.  He definitely has a future in the NBA as a third center.
  • Kenyon’s back must be much better.  Not only did he play in the second half, but Karl reinserted him in the game in the last 33 seconds.  I thought that was a risky move.  If he reinjures his back there who knows how long he might have been out.  The risk paid off though as Martin blocked Mayo’s attempt to put the Grizzlies back in the lead with 11 seconds left.
  • It was interesting to see Kleiza’s minutes dwindle with Kenyon back and Balkman still featured in the rotation.  That cannot be good news for LK coming down the stretch in a contract season.

Mindboggling Game Stats

Pace Factor:  94.2 – Pretty brisk for a road game.

Defensive Efficiency:  115.7 – Memphis shot 47.7% and only turned the ball over 10 times.

Offensive Efficiency:  117.8 – Very good considering Denver turned it over 19 times.

Featured Blog:  3 Shades of Blue

2008-09 Game 68: Denver Nuggets 121 – New Jersey Nets 96

Box Score | Highlights

I finally saw some of what I have been looking for from the Denver Nuggets during their 121-96 victory over the New Jersey Nets.  It did not last for long, primarily only in the first quarter, which kind of made it not quite as cool, but it did happen. 

The Nuggets played incredible pick and roll defense. 

I have been hoping for more than easy victories over these five games leading up to their three game road trip.  The wins are nice, but in games such as these I am looking for signs of improvement, not just a team who is out talent-ing their opponents.  For a few minutes in the first quarter the Nuggets played very good team defense and showed great collective awareness on the pick and roll and that made me happy.

Of course, it did not last.  There were spurts of good defense here and there, but nothing like they played in the first quarter.  However, instead of getting upset about the relatively porous defense the Nuggets played for most of the night, I am going to focus on the good.  After all, there has to be some good to come out of a 25 point win.

From time to time the Nuggets also applied very good ball pressure in the third quarter.   The best example came with 9:27 left in the third.  Brook Lopez caught an inbounds pass in the left corner.  Nene was all over him.  Lopez dribbled out to the three point line and picked up his dribble while Nene continued to hound him.  While Nene was pressing Lopez, Dahntay Jones was all over Vince Carter who was trying to cut to the ball.  Nene and Jones worked to knock the ball loose and the result was a break away dunk for Jones.

All was not well for the Nuggets defense though as they once again failed to close off the three point line.  The Nets were 9-21 towards the end of the third quarter before finishing the game 1-5.

With all the talk of defense you never would have guessed that the Nuggets posted a season high offensive efficiency of 139.7.  They only shot 45.5%, which is not bad, but they pulled down a whopping 25 offensive rebounds.  The Nets only had 31 total rebounds.  The offensive rebounding has been a trend over the three game winning streak as the Nuggets have posted three of their top eight offensive rebounding rates over the last three games.  Against the Nets they earned a nearly unheard of offensive rebound rate of 50.0%.  Chris Andersen lead the way with eight offensive rebounds in only 19 minutes making up for the fact he only nabbed one defensive rebound.  Renaldo Balkman snared six of his own offensive boards.

The Nuggets also continued their running ways racking up 24 more fast break points. 

The other big stories surrounding this game were the return of Kenyon Martin and the departure of Renaldo Balkman.  Kenyon returned to the starting lineup, but only played in the first half to avoid restraining his back after the half time break. 

Balkman, who had another amazing performance, gave Nuggets fans all over a scare when he strained his left groin muscle in the third quarter, but claims he will be ready to play tonight against Memphis.    

I will say that I was disappointed that the Nets were hanging so close late into the third quarter playing without Devin Harris and on the second night of back to back games.  After the Nuggets jumped on them in the first quarter New Jersey fought back, thanks to some impressive shooting by Vince Carter, and were only down six at the half.  However, I set the bar at not allowing the Nets to get within ten points in the fourth quarter and the Nuggets succeeded in accomplishing that.

Next comes a road game against a feisty Grizzly squad.  The Nuggets definitely look better now that they have had some days off.  Conversely the Jazz, who beat the Wizards by 15 at home tonight, had to deal with a tough east coast roadie that handed them a three game losing streak.  Denver is back in first place in the Northwest Division and fourth in the west, but both races are incredibly tight as the Nuggets are one of four teams with 25 losses, Utah has 26 and Dallas 27.

Additional Game 68 Nuggets

  • I mentioned how the Nuggets played great defense in the first quarter on screens.  Well, it was not really all of them.   Carmelo seemed to be on a personal mission to switch every screen he came in contact with.  I wish I knew if that was the scheme or if he does it on his own.
  • Another game, another physical defender on Carmelo.  Trenton Hassel really gave Melo fits when the two matched up in the playoffs during Melo’s rookie season.  Since then Carmelo really seemed to have solved Hassel, but last night the refs really let Hassle Bowen Melo up.  Hassell used his repertoire of grabbing, pulling and shoving.  Melo did get frustrated, but handled it reasonably well in the second half after getting hit with a technical in the second quarter. 
  • I thought Melo ran very well and at the 7:15 mark of the first quarter after Hassell made a jumper (thanks to Melo switching onto Carter and taking Jones by surprise forcing Jones to try to recover to Hassell) Carmelo beat everyone up the floor, sealed Vince Carter off, received a lob pass from Chauncey and made the layup before help could arrive.  I thought it was a good example of the kind of relatively easy basket that he does not seem to get anymore because he does not run the floor like he used to.
  • If I had a research department I would have them figure out what the record for the widest scoring differential between two teams over two games is.  The 69 point swing from the Nets 44 point win to the Nuggets 25 point win has to be one of the biggest in history.
  • Nene has been doing a better job lately of setting screens instead of constantly slipping them.  With better screens come more opportunities to score in the paint off the roll.
  • I was beside myself on the last play of the first half when on a fast break to beat the clock Anthony Carter faded from the lane for a jumper.  Does he not realize he has not made a jumper in three weeks?  Had he run to the rim he probably could have had a layup instead of a shot that may as well have come from Nebraska the way he is shooting right now.
  • One instance after Lopez had hit a couple of jumpers, Dahntay Jones ran at him to keep him from firing off another.  You would think Jones would then be able to keep Lopez from driving to the rim seeing as how he is a guard, but Lopez blew right by him from the top of the circle and got to the rim for a layup. 
  • In the third quarter the Nuggets were starting to dominate, but the Nets stayed close thanks to Vince Carter.  Carter drilled back to back threes because Dahntay Jones sagged off him into the lane to help on the pick and roll and Melo never once budged to rotate up to Carter.  You might be able to blame Jones for leaving Carter, but as a team defender, you would think Melo might consider helping his teammate.  Maybe after he hits the first one you might think about rotating over.  Sadly, Carter hit a third straight three off a long rebound  where Melo was standing all alone at the right side of the lane with no Nets anywhere near him and even then he hesitated to run at Carter.
  • The Nuggets guards have a problem of dumping the ball off to trailers who are right behind them on the break.  Carter did it to Nene at 9:34 of the fourth quarter.  When you leave the ball for a player coming directly behind you they have to catch the ball and then immediately avoid the player who was guarding you before you passed it.  It is an awful position to put a teammate in, but Chauncey, AC and J.R. all do it from time to time.
  • Kleiza is lucky he did not seriously injure his leg after he was fouled by Vince Carter with 7:46 left in the game.  The way it was caught underneath him and twisted could have broken a bone or shredded some ligaments.
  • J.R. made five straight threes in the third and fourth quarter, which was fun to watch as he has not exploded like that for a long time, but then as soon as he did his my hand is on fire act he missed his last two.  Lesson learned?  J.R. did make some great passes though.  He is the most creative passer on the team.
  • It was nice to see Chauncey continue to be aggressive making passes from the perimeter to the rim.  On one occasion he even caught Melo by surprise as he had to surge past the unsuspecting defender to stab the pass and lay it in.
  • The Nuggets had a season low six turnovers although it may have been due to the law of averages after fumbling the ball away 22 times against the Clippers.
  • By the way, I am sorry for the late recaps.  This one was due to a technical difficulty and I did not get to watch the game until Tuesday afternoon.  I promise to get back on track with the Memphis game.

Mindboggling Game Stats

Pace Factor:  86.6 – Second slowest home game of the season thanks to all the offensive rebounds.

Defensive Efficiency:  110.8 – Not very impressive as a whole, but apart from their poor three point field goal defense it was a solid effort.

Offensive Efficiency:  139.7 – As previously mentioned, that is a season high thanks to all the second chance points.

Featured Blog:  Nets Daily

Offday Offerings – Replacing Dahntay?

I cannot believe I did not notice this sooner, but it just donned on me that I did not remember seeing Dahntay Jones play at all against the Thunder last night.  A quick glance at the box score shows that Jones had the DNP Coach’s Decision.

Could it be that George Karl has decided to give Jones’ minutes to Renaldo Balkman? 

With Kenyon Martin out and Anthony Carter returning to the rotation we probably cannot use last night’s game as a template for how minutes will be handed out for the remainder of the season.  Also, Jones started the game before against the Rockets because he was a better matchup against the Rockets’ pair of swingmen Ron Artest and Shane Battier.

A quick glance at the Player Efficiency Ratings shows that the Nuggets bench is full of a bunch of below average players.  Professor Hollinger sets the average PER rating to 15 and Anthony Carter (10.94), Linas Kleiza (13.10) and J.R. Smith (14.64) are all below average players.  Dahntay Jones’ 9.07 PER is the worst out of the Nuggets’ rotation players.  (To be fair, PER does not rate defensive ability outside of blocks and steals and as a result it probably sells players like Jones a little short.)

Renaldo Balkman’s PER is 17.55.

The question I have been asking myself lately is how much better would the Nuggets be if Balkman was getting more of Kleiza’s minutes.  The question I should have been asking is how much better would the Nuggets be if Balkman was getting Jones’ minutes.  I am not saying play Balkman 17 minutes a night at shooting guard, but if we allow Chauncey Billups, J.R. Smith and Anthony Carter to play the 96 minutes available between the two guard spots, have Kleiza back up Melo for 12 to 15 minutes a night, have Chris Andersen back up Nene for 18 to 22 minutes a game and then give Balkman another 18 to 22 minutes behind Kenyon that is a pretty stout rotation.  On some nights Balkman can also help fill in at shooting guard depending on matchups. 

As loyal reader Nuggets4 pointed out in the comments from the game recap Karl is still making references that the reason Balkman does not play more is because of his “spotty defense” and lack of a jump shot.  The only time I saw Renaldo get out of position last night was when his man made a relatively slow cut to the rim and it appeared that Renaldo decided to pass him off to the weak side low defender while he stayed at the strong side elbow so that he could run out at a potential three point shooter.  The result was Balkman’s man was open under the hoop and scored an easy layup, but at least there seemed to be some semblance of a team defense thought process behind his decision even if it was a bad one. 

Balkman does not have a good jumper, but he knows it and rarely takes it.  Kenyon Martin does not have a good jumper, but he chucks it up constantly.  I love the way Balkman plays offense.  He is always around the rim and has a knack for finding cracks in the opposition’s interior defense.  I understand why Karl wishes Balkman could shoot a midrange jumper.  Good outside shooting can open up the middle.  Do not discount what Balkman does do though.  His ability to find open areas and score in the paint breaks the defense down from its core, which is much more devastating.  Balkman’s true shooting percentage (adjusting shooting percentage to include threes and free throws) is third on the Nuggets at 59.2% behind Nene’s 63.9% (and falling) and Birdman’s 60.6%.

I will give Dahntay Jones credit.  He has never been thought of as a defensive stopper at any point in his career, but he realized that was the role he would need to play to earn minutes with the Nuggets and he has worked hard to develop that aspect of his game.  While he has had some great games as a one on one defender, he is not a night in and night out defensive stalwart plus he is not a high quality team defender.  However, if Balkman can get 20 plus minutes a night and Jones gets more DNP Coach’s Decisions I think the Nuggets would reap some pretty good benefits.

Getting in touch with our inner stat geek

Kevin Pelton over at Basketball Prospectus has been cranking out some great stuff as of late.  He came up with a formula to determine what teams are the most inconsistent as far as beating the teams they should be beating by as many points as they should beat them by.  Using adjusted expected scoring differentials Denver is considered the third least consistent team in the NBA.  Confused?  Just read it.  I promise it will help having a smart person explain it instead of having me try to do it.

Kevin has also taken a look at how a team’s average age impacts their defensive abilities using the Portland Trailblazers as the inspiration.

5280 article on George Karl

I am pretty sure I am the last Nuggets related blog to post a link to this piece on Karl, but if you have not read it yet, I highly encourage you to check it out.  Also head on over to Denver Stiffs as Andrew has an interview with the author Robert Sanchez.

NBA players like Chauncey

Sports Illustrated has conducted a poll with NBA players on what point guard they would pay to see.  Look who shows up tied for third.

A little humor to close the day

I never saw that Tokyo Drift movie, but I probably would have if there were scenes like that in it.

2008-09 Game 66: Denver Nuggets 112 – Oklahoma City Thunder 99

Box Score | Highlights

It sure was nice to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in a game that did not require a last second shot for once.  Denver was in control from start to finish, but before we get too carried away with an easy win against a less than stellar squad, let’s take a look at how Denver did in the areas we highlighted earlier this afternoon.

The Nuggets definitely cranked up the running game.  Led by the return of Anthony Carter and the aggressiveness of Linas Kleiza and Renaldo Balkman Denver posted 25 fast break points.  That is the most they have scored in a single game since February 6 in Washington, which was 16 games ago, when they accumulated 27.

The pace factor was a relatively slow 90.7, but that is most likely due to the number of offensive rebounds, the two teams combined to nab 33 offensive boards and offensive rebounds prolong possessions.  We can tell from the fast break points, and from simply watching the game itself that both teams ran early and often.

The Nuggets addressed the issue of declining assist totals by playing unselfishly and earning good shots.  18 of the Nuggets 22 first half baskets were assisted.  For the game they finished with 33 assists on 42 makes and 22 of those 33 assists were on shots converted at the rim.  The movement and passing, especially in the first half, was outstanding.  One of my frustrations lately with Chauncey Billups was that he rarely makes imaginative passes.  It has been weeks since I saw him throw a pass that took me by surprise.  He even made some nice passes to the roller off the pick and roll.  Tonight was as good of a passing game as Denver has put together in a long time.

The other primary pitfall on offense was the fact the Nuggets had been shooting blanks.  Against the Thunder they shot 50% for the game and that was made possible by the fact they shot 64% at the rim.  They also shot 50% between fifteen feet and the charge circle.  As I pointed out earlier today that range is typically the least accurate of the four areas we analyzed (layups, charge circle to fifteen feet, fifteen feet to the three point line and behind the arc).  The key to shooting that well was the fact that the shots they took from that range were mostly wide open looks.  As we moved further away from the rim their shooting on long twos and threes was not spectacular.  The Nuggets shot 35.7% on both long twos and threes, but that beat their pathetic percentages from the previous ten games. 

Another positive sign was 47% of Denver’s shots were layups.  That is up from their season average of 44.5%.  Denver was incredibly aggressive in the first half as 56.8% of their shots attempted were layups.  Part of the reason for that increase I believe is the Thunder lack a shot blocking presence in the lane and the Nuggets felt comfortable attacking the rim (Tyson Chandler anyone?).

While the Nuggets made progress on offense there is less of a reason to be excited about their defense.  The two areas I sited where Denver has fallen off were in committing shooting fouls and defending the three.  Denver sent the Thunder to the line 32 times where they amazingly made 30 of them.  Those 32 free throws were slightly higher than the Nuggets had been allowing during their 11 game slump and Oklahoma City attempted one more free throw than Denver.   

The Nuggets would appear to have defended the three pretty well as Oklahoma City made only 3 of 13 attempts.  A closer look reveals the Nuggets contested only four of the Thunder’s 13 attempts from behind the arc.  They did miss all four of those attempts and only made three of the nine open attempts, but that ratio of open shots to contested ones was not good a better shooting team will make a much higher percentage of their open threes.

As I mentioned this afternoon the real issue was with the Nuggets’ poor rotations and overall team defense.  The Thunder do not have any deadly three point shooters with Kevin Durant out of action and because of that when they played drive and kick the recipient of the pass either took a midrange jumper or drove.  Both of those plays are easier to defend than a three point attempt because there is not as much ground to cover.  The few times the Nuggets were required to rotate they did not do a particularly good job.

Overall Nuggets fans should just be happy with a win in which the Nuggets were not seriously threatened.  On the other hand there were some red flags.  Aside from the tendency to foul and their inability to consistently challenge Oklahoma City’s three point attempts the Nuggets yet again struggled to hold the lead.  Denver built up a 42-23 second quarter lead and saw the Thunder gnaw it down to five in roughly six minutes.  The key was another problem we have seen in the past and that was the Nuggets inability to defend the fast break.  Earl Watson continually drove through the Nuggets sluggish transition defense as he was allowed to drive as deep in the lane as he pleased.  The one time Anthony Carter tried to stop him about 16 feet from the rim AC never even moved his feet and was called for a tripping foul.  It was not just Carter though all of the Nuggets’ guards were guilty.  J.R. was the worst offender and Chauncey was only slightly better as he at least made Watson change directions before making a layup. 

The Nuggets built up another 19 point lead in the fourth quarter, but once again allowed the Thunder to whittle it down to nine with over three minutes left in the fourth quarter.  Their inability to put the game completely out of reach is unsettling. 

The Nuggets have four more games against subpar teams to get these kinks worked out.  Both the Jazz and Trail Blazers lost tonight and it is tempting to get excited about the Nuggets’ prospects to win the division again.  Before I anoint the Nuggets favorites again they will have to prove to me that they have addressed all of the problems we have dealt with today. 

Additional Game 66 Nuggets

  • Fourteen of the Nuggets first 16 shots were layups or dunks.  You cannot complain about that.
  • Anthony Carter sure showed what he can do when he is on his game.  He did a great job fueling the running game as he racked up a season high 12 assists.  He made great decisions with the ball and he has not passed ahead to whoever was streaking up the floor that well since last season.  I vote for AC only playing every fifth game.
  • Linas Kleiza did a great job running the floor and only took two threes.  He actually displayed a midrange game and was able to get to the line nine times.  The last time he shot more than seven free throws was mid November.  I can deal with the Kleiza we saw tonight even though he did miss a couple of layups.
  • I need more Renaldo Balkman like Christopher Walken needs more cowbell.  As I wrote in the game thread how can any coach watch him play and not think to himself, “I have to get this guy on the floor for 20 to 24 minutes a game.”?  One of the concerns is his apparent lack of offense, but he creates offense by hitting the offensive glass, running the floor and finding open space in the defense.
  • As promising as the Nuggets play on offense was I think we all suspect the Nuggets will forget how much easier it is to score when they play unselfishly, move the ball and move without the ball the way they did tonight.  As soon as they face a tougher foe it will be back to superhero basketball.  Stand back, I’ll handl this!

Mindboggling Game Stats

Pace Factor:  90.7 – Slow for a game in Denver, but understandable due to the high offensive rebound rate.

Defensive Efficiency:  109.2 – Not as strong a performance as we hoped for, but they did hold the Thunder to 40.2% shooting.  However, if Durant had played this number would obviously have been much higher.

Offensive Efficiency:  123.5 – Very good offensive performance, but we already knew that.

Featured Blog:  Daily Thunder

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